Thursday, November 29, 2012

So you wanna be a cook pt 4 (bites continued)

Now with a weeded list in hand we weed some more! It would be great if we had all the time in the world to cook what we like but realistically feast is only a few hours long and not a day long or weekend long event. So it is time to look at what can be accomplished in the time we have. How much oven time is needed, how many pots can you have on a stove and how long will each dish take to stage and cook and serve.

I try to imagine if I had to make this feast ALONE, what would I need? How long would it take? Could it be done? You never know how many volunteers you will get, so if possible line them up in advance.

Don't take too big of a bite! It is OK to be ambitious, but not to the detriment of you health or the feast. One of my first feasts was a disaster! only 2/3 of the dishes got made, we had problems with the ovens, with a hand mixer that was electrocuting me, and in the middle of all of it my not quite year old son spiked a fever that almost put him in the hospital! I remember a disaster, everyone else remembers the meat! or the grey stuff! I was learning at the time and hadn't taken any of the things mentioned in my last 3 parts into consideration. I lived and learned and hopefully you won't have to repeat my mistakes. If you, it is OK, we all make mistakes!

It is better to take small bites. KISS is a great rule. Keep It Simple Stupid! Not that you or I are stupid but it gets the point across. By keeping it simple if you fall over dead, or have an accident before the event then someone else can take over and pick up the pieces. This is best accomplished with a drop dead deputy. If you have one, communication is key! Keep them in the loop with all of your planning, have them help. Write everything down! No matter how "common sense" it seems, write it down or it will get forgotten. I forgot to write down salt on my shopping list once, common sense says I need it. Shopping in my third store of the day in the cold and wet with two kids meant I forgot it. It happens to everyone so don't let it get you down.

Once you start building a time schedule you can see what will fit and what won't. Remember to allow time for things like, food, drink and the bathroom. If your schedule is too tight it will be stressful and stress isn't fun. Plan in breaks to sit down and relax, even if it is 10 minutes.

Relax, this is supposed to be fun!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

So you wanna be a cook...(pt 3 , big bites, small bites)

At the end of my last post I left you with thoughts on biting off more than you can chew. This is a very important aspect of cooking.

I realize I need to take a few steps backward with you, and I may edit my first post I might note this for future teaching, but trust me at this point this is important information!

What is your kitchen facility like? How many stoves? ovens? Sinks? Counters? How large are the aforementioned items? Where are you outlets? How is the wiring? (never thought this would make a difference until it did!). How many refrigerators? Do they work? Freezers? Storage space? Do they have a coffee maker? Do they have pots? What sizes? Serving equipment? Don't forget serving spoons, forks and knives!These are all questions you should have answers to before you tackle what still lies ahead? Visit the facility if you can, take notes! Take pictures! Ask Questions!

So, are we prepared? We have our information and research has given us oodles of recipes. Now what?

Now we see what is possible! Eliminate the improbable first. It may seem like a cool idea to serve a gilded cow head when you first hear of it but think about the cost, the time and the likelihood that someone will actually eat it, maybe not such a good idea after all. Weeding your prospects down isn't easy but it is essential. Rarely is there a kitchen with enough oven space that every remove can have an oven dish, or with enough stove space for 20 pots, especially large pots.

These are the things to keep in mind as you weed down your list.

I must cut this short, real life is interfering with me :)
     I will continue tomorrow...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

So you wanna be a cook... pt 2 (research)

To research or not to research.. that is the question.

Yes folks, now that you have a theme, and a budget it is time to decide how to spend that money!

Firstly, how much of your food are you aiming to be period? All of it? One meal? One dish in every meal? Once you know how many dishes let the research begin.

There are a few ways to go about this, like all things it is determinded by the amount of time you have and the effort you want to put in, as well as skill level. Not everyone is ready to delve into untranslated or even translated (if needed) text to redact their own recipes.

How "true" to period you are is entire up to YOU! and your comfort level. If you are most comfortable with period-ish recipes, or recipes made from period ingredients with period methods go for it. If you like to use period sources and recipes but haven't reached a level where you like to or want to redact your own, this is good too. If you are at the point of using direct sources or translations and working your own redactions, again, it is all good. No matter what school you subscribe to if you are comfortable with what you are doing you will be less stressed and things will go smoother.

When I started I knew very little, I relied on what I had seen other places and what people had told me. Of course when I started there was no internet. I kept to a few simple rules and ideas: No potatoes, No tomatoes, and No bell peppers. I cooked stews with barley, served with simple breads. I stuck to basic meats of beef, chicken and pork, and while this is not completely off I have learned at this stage that at least 2 of the three "forbidden" foods I mentioned are found within period, but they are not widespread, they are very time and location specific. If doing a feast from those places AND time then by all means use them!

My next foray came after I moved to Drachenwald. I had no period cookbooks of my own and neither did anyone near me. So I turned to the next best thing, the internet! Not that there was a ton but there were two sites that got me started and provided me inspiration:
       Cariadoc's Miscellany:
and Stefan's Florilegium:
From these two sites I found recipes, other peoples work and redactions but they got me started. They helped me learn how to do , and even how not to do things sometimes.

I branched from there to period texts, translated to or in English as this is my "mother tongue" I am slowly becoming proficient enough with German that I can delve into those soon. I have started to redact my own recipes, even those that have "been done" before as no two people see things the same way. This way of doing things is a slower process. Often you must cook a recipe several time before you get it to where you believe it's taste is.

How involved you want t to be is up to YOU!

I think I have given enough to think about for now... I will have more :) (next will be about not biting off more than you can chew.)

Monday, November 26, 2012

So you wanna be a cook... pt 1

This in no way is a definitive piece of work. I am sure there is much stuff that could be added as well as taken away for some. I am writing to put together less of a "How to..." then I am a "this is my thought process maybe it will help you " sort of thing.

First, No matter how much advice you get everyone will make mistakes! If it is your first or fiftieth feast we all forget something, miss time a dish, have equipment failure etc... Accept it when you start and it will be easier to deal with when it happens. Also in this case when nothing does go wrong you can congratulate yourself on a job well done!

Second, Everyone has a different method that works for them. Find your own method. Take bits and pieces from everyone who has come before you. If they tell you something it is because they have likely been there and done that. If a rigid schedule is your thing, go with it! If you need less structure then give yourself plenty of room to move in. The only "perfect" way is your own way.

On to the beginning...

So, you have volunteered to cook :) Congratulations let the stress begin! Oh, and the fun ;) After the excitement has worn off and you find yourself facing that ever increasing number guests, relax. Take it one step at a time.

I would hope that when you volunteer you already have an idea of what type of event it is. Casual, formal, large, small, intimate, early, late, themed, the list really is endless. If you do not know or a theme has not been set work with the event steward in order to determine this together. Nothing is worse than planning a Norse feast for a 14century English event, or the reverse! Along with theme is know your budget. How much per person, times rough estimate number of people, equals feast budget. Make sure to account for a price difference for children if there is one.

I keep saying "feast" realistically in this kingdom (Drachenwald). This is your "food budget" as most events are all inclusive for food. Travelers fare Friday night, 2 Breakfasts (Sat and Sun), Lunch Saturday and feast Saturday night. If you are splitting the duties with other cooks it is very important that a few things happen. You either need to be in charge of all the money and the purchasing, which would mean getting detailed shopping lists and budgets from your other cooks, or you need to separate the funds into separate pieces for the other cooks to be in charge of. You should always know how much money is allotted to your meals. Both ways have advantages. If you are in charge of all of the food and the money it is easy to slide the 15 euro you are over for breakfasts into the feast budget for an extra desert or to offset a price increase in ingredients. If you have split the budget and the cooking it is harder to have that sort of "play" but it is still very manageable.

Example: your "food budget per adult(14+) is 12 euro and for kids (5-13) 6 euro. You expect 50 people. 36 adults and 14 kids. 36 x 12 = 432 euro 14 x 6= 84 a total food budget of 516 euro. Now if you break this down to meals. you could say Fri night = 1.5 euro pp, Breakfasts 2.5pp euro, Lunch 2 euro pp, and that would leave 6 euro for feast. You could then Multiply by your numbers and get seperate budgets for each meal.

OK, now that we know what type of feast we are looking for and what our budget is the research fun can begin! but that will be next time... this is enough to digest for now.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Yes, I think I just made up a word :) What is acceptable to substitute in a recipe. Like for like is the theory but how "alike" really are 2 different food. In a recipe that calls for oranges a reasonable substitution is lemons, right? On the basis of them both being fruits and from the citrus family. You wouldn't use apples? or grapes? or would you?

My thought process right now is regionality, If a recipe were to come to you from far away and all the ingredients were "exotic" would you just not try? or would you substitute? If you never knew the flavor of an orange would you make the leap to a lemon? If you knew only that it was a fruit would you choose a more local or easier to get fruit.

Once upon a time naive me thought that all cheese with holes in it was Swiss cheese, when I moved to Germany I found out I was wrong. There is also Emmentaler and Masdamer and many others. They taste similar and are constructed the same but why are they not Swiss cheese? because they are not from Switzerland. Now I gues sthis should have been obvious to me, but it wasn't. I just never thought of it in that way.

So now I ponder where the food comes from. Cheese, meat, sausage, all of it. What is "local" to where it was made and what is generic enough about it to make it cross regional and sometimes cross cultural.

While watching "Tales From the Green Valley" I realized how it played a large part in their lives. Ruth was making cheese and mentioned that the "cottage type" cheese was one of the few soft cheeses. It seemed wrong when she said it but maybe that was the only type known to the English, this will require delving into. I know though that in Italy there were several types of soft cheeses that are mentioned by Scappi. It seemed reasonable to me that they would be found everywhere. No?

Too much to think about, too much thoughts lead to more research. There are not enough hours in the day.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

30 day challenge

Post number one only minimally about SCA, food or feast planning. Let us see where the wander will take us, shall we?

I have decided to undertake a 30 day challenge and mine is to commit to one post a day here for the next 30 days. Hopefully something relating to SCA, feast planning, research, food, or etc...

So, let me try to open my brain a little today. What is on my mind? Feast! Garden of Earthly Delights to be precise. I know, cutting it a bit close since it is after all this weekend! Normally my process starts Months in advance and this was no exception, though I have hit a few snags. Holidays, sickness and apathy have all worked against me at some point in this process. I have lists of recipes to try, to redact and to work with. I just haven't been bothered to put it into any sort of cohesive "plan", and "plan" is usually my problem.

How am I fixing this? Well to start I hit the sales papers. Next I am sticking to basic and simple foods and flavors. Three, deciding that I am OK using these people as guinea pigs! Yes folks you will be eating some foods that are just as new to you as they are me! :)

The atmosphere of GoED has always been one of "try it out!", Sort of hard to do with foods and a small kitchen, though people are more than welcome to drop in and watch or even help! I think my "table" will be my kitchen. It will mostly be me on my own in there as most everyone else will be busy so the key really will be simplicity. The other key will be prep, stuff I can do ahead of time.
Hmm, I will not be able to post on Saturday so I will have to go a day longer or double post on a day :) I should be able to post Friday and Sunday without problems. Maybe I can get one in on Sat morning.

Well off and running!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Helpful hint # 1

While preparing for the recent holiday, I was just thinking of small things I do to make my life easier and figured I would start putting some of them down, not all of them are genius but to me they have been life savers.

I will start with garbage! Here at home I have a semi large container which when it is full is to heavy for me to move. So, when I start I put in my plastic bag and then a paper bag. This does 2 things: one keeps sharp objects from poking through my plastic and creating a mess and two when the paper bag is full then I take it out and it is not too heavy for me to lift!

Now to just do this more often in my feast kitchen!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Recipe mix up..

.. but still tasty!

I have been reading so many recipes lately they seem to be blending into one! Last night I tried out an egg tart from The Good Houswife's Jewel. I swear while I was in the store I remembered that the recipe called for a handful of green herbs to be tossed in, so I grab a package of each of what is fresh and off I go.

I get home and being prep, meaning I pull out the book and look at the recipe. No herbs. No herbs? I read it again, I double check the page and then check the other recipe I was going to do as well. No herbs! Of course I had already taken a bit from each and chopped them up, so I tossed them in anyway! Wasn't bad, but if an herb tart is what you want leave out the rosewater that is called for in the recipe and sweet/savory in this case do not really mix.

Any way, I will write here the original, what I did, and what is planned for next time.

     The Good Housewife's Jewel pg 76 A Tart of Eggs
Take twelve eggs and butter them together. Then strain them with rosewater; season it with sugar. Then put it into your paste. And so bake it and serve it with sugar upon it.

12 eggs beaten together (+2 egg whites so not to waste them from the paste)
about 2 Tbsp of rosewater
a handful of chopped green herbs (sage, chive, rosemary, parsley, dill)

 1 1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup butter
2 egg yolks
2 Tbsp rosewater
Bake in a 170c - 180c convection oven for 30 - 40 min (I was bad and did not time exact)

Results were tasty though all the herbs settled on the top. Though this worked to our adavtage as we took off the top layer and sprinkled it with sugar to try and get a taste for the original.

Next time:
Next time skip the herbs! Increase Rosewater, likely double it, and add sugar. I will keep the paste as it was very tasty and a good compliment to the egg.

Friday, November 9, 2012

progress, slow but moving

I have made it through two books now and have looked into leads for my Spanish portion of the meal.

I got a notebook with movable dividers and have been using it to keep notes and track things. Today I sat down and allocated myself 2 pages per recipe for my testing and redacting phase of the recipes I have found in The Good Housewife's Jewel. Now to make a shopping list and get cracking on the trying them out!

I have a seperate section for stuff to research, words, ingredients, substitutions etc... I will start with some of that later.

Sorry for so many posts and what seems to be so little content. I am trying to keep track of my thought processes as it is such a big project :)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Almost another book down

I am most of the way through extracting ideas from my Italian cookbook. As Scappi breaks his book into "Books" and not chapters I have one book left, I am intrigued and scared at the same time as it is his book on Pastry! I need to keep in mind the amount of time I will have to prep foods as well as the fact that I will not be able to personally oversee the kitchen. I am simply redacting the recipes for a professional kitchen's use. We will do prep work for them, but not the cooking. This makes me so scared! I just want things to be good, I am not even aiming for perfect!

I have a plan, a cunning plan :) I have enlisted a scribe to be my partner in crime, but more on that later :)

Off to do something useful, I think.

Monday, November 5, 2012

1 down

sigh, one down and many to go. Though it does mark progress. What am I doing? I am working on creating the feast for 20 year celebration in Drachenwald! Scared to death but moving ahead. It will be a 16th century Grand Feast, with 4 courses. I have decided to chose from the countries of England, Germany, Italy and hopefully Spain (if I can find enough material that I can read to work with.)

1 down? I have made it through my choice of English cookbook! A facsimile copy of The Good Housewifes Jewel. I have approximately 11 recipes to test in order to choose my final 3 or 4 for the course. One is chosen so that leaves me with actually only 2 or 3 to choose.

I have plunged back into Scappi for my Italian course and have asked around for some materials for Spain. I am hoping to be able to provide variety and substance to the people and I am hoping to meet or exceed the expectations that are placed on this coveted position. I am scared as hell at failing! but will carry on and try not to look at the big picture just the baby steps needed top get there right now.